The term “hack” is probably the most abused term in the startup ecosystem and that is no small feat, by any standard. Everything constitutes a hack and everything can be hacked.
To someone who buys in on the hype, running a startup starts to feel like an endless train of hacks that make everything alright.
Sooner or later this way of thinking causes problems, if nothing else, then simply because it starts diminishing the importance of hard work and systematic processes that are the cornerstone of every business success.
Today, we will be looking at four of the more popular “hacks” that are often lauded as startup lifelines, but which are anything but.
1. Celebrity brand ambassadors
There is definitely a logic to paying for a celebrity brand ambassador. Our culture is celebrity-obsessed and it seems that having a famous person endorse your startup and its product is a sure ticket to sales and riches.
However, once you start really thinking about it, cracks start to appear, usually in form of questions posed by the general public.
Why would a famous person be endorsing an app that no one has heard of? Why do all those endorsement messages sound so emotionless? Is it possible that this is a paid endorsement?
In other words, having George Clooney (usually it will be someone much less famous) flog your travel app will rarely be enough to save your startup.
Moreover, data is starting to appear saying that non-celebrity backers and endorsers are far more effective. This article from Collective Bias covers this in more depth, relying on their own data which shows non-celebrity backers speak louder than celebrity ones.
2. Overdoing new features
Running a startup that is constantly working on their product is exciting. When you solve a problem that your customers and potential customers might have and you roll out a new feature, you want everyone to know.
You want everyone to benefit from it.
It is a noble ambition.
Unfortunately, things are far more complicated than this.
For example, sometimes your early adopters and new users do not want to be bombarded by new features every single day. They started using your product because it approached a single problem in a straightforward way without complicating things too much. With a ton of new features being released continuously, your products becomes cumbersome and annoying.
Other times, you overestimate a perceived problem and you come out with a new feature that no one needs and that unnecessarily shifts your attention from stuff that really matters.
Another very common problem with firing off one new feature after another is that you “dilute” your product (and subsequently your brand) to such an extent that no one is able to say what it is really about.
Even when your new features really hit the nail on the head, they are rarely (if ever) so ground-breaking that they turn everything around. This great article form Baremetrics covers this very succinctly and poignantly.
The best way to ensure that new features you roll out as a startup are successful and make sense is to ensure they are an organic continuation of what brought you initial success. A great example is Sparesbox, a rapidly-growing Australian seller of car parts. Recently, they launched a new feature which allows their buyers to have their parts fitted by a local partner mechanic. A perfectly logical and organic new development (and a great success, by the way).
3. The latest marketing hype
There is no doubt that marketing has its place in the startup world. You need to get your brand and your product in front of as many people as you can. However, it needs to be done in a structured way, with a decent marketing strategy in place and with smart practices delivering the strategy.
Recently, however, marketing (especially digital marketing) has become muddled by various “experts” and “gurus” who peddle all kinds of snake oil solutions that are hyped incessantly by other “’experts” and “gurus” who know net to nothing about delivering demonstrable results and hitting hard targets.
In other words, marketing has become more hype than anything else.
Like with everything else in the world of business, these shortcuts usually lead to nothing.
It is not that these overhyped tactics and practices are in themselves bad or useless; it is just that they are being sold for what they are not – quick solutions that are supposed to turn a failing startup into a resounding success.
The worst thing about falling for marketing hype is that startups tend to waste relatively large amounts of their already limited marketing budgets on these practices, hoping to get a return on their investment that is simply impossible.
Look at it a different way – if these were so successful, wouldn’t everyone do it and stop doing everything else.
Marketing cannot be hacked. It takes time and expertise.
4. Pointless bling
Employee branding and engagement is exceptionally important in the startup world. Your people are more than just the backbone of your startup. Anyone who has had to replace one or more members of their team mid-development knows this all to well.
A startup does not even exist independently of people in it.
Unfortunately, many startups do not understand how to do employee branding and engagement, as they focus on all the wrong things.
Google’s employees aren’t super excited about working for the company because they have an insane fussball table or the most incredible espresso machine in the world. They are excited because they are paid well, because they get time off and because they are not absolutely overwhelmed with work (most of the time).
Employee engagement is actually quite simple – people want to be paid for the work they put in and they have their limits.
Wasting your time and effort on cool but ultimately pointless amenities and perks will not be enough to dispel the displeasure your employees feel for not being treated humanely and with respect.
Employee engagement is more common sense than anything else and no hacking will ever suffice.
All in all, do not fall for hype. Hacking is a buzzword. Think things through and work hard.
Dan Radak is a marketing professional with eleven years of experience. He is a coauthor on several websites and regular contributor to BizzMark Blog. Currently, he is working with a number of companies in the field of digital marketing, closely collaborating with a couple of e-commerce companies.